The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

What would you do if given the choice: save all of the art in human history from being burned in a big bonfire by Nazis? Or would you save one stranger in a faraway land from being killed?
You’re thinking about it, aren’t you? For me, it’s a no-brainer. I’d save the life of the person I’ve never met.
I’m not diminishing the importance or the beauty of fine art. I’m a huge fan of the paintings and cathedrals of Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
I studied art history in college and took it pretty seriously. But not more seriously than the sanctity of human life, the golden rule, and the moral obligation to never hurt your fellow man.
George Clooney disagrees with me. And he made a mediocre movie to argue his side.
“Monuments Men” tells the true story of a handful of brave art aficionados (played by Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and John Goodman) who volunteered to go to Europe just as World War II was ending. Their goal was to save paintings and historical buildings from American bombing raids.
When they got to Europe, they discovered a shocking German plot to loot as much art as possible and ship it east to build a fabulous Fuhrer Museum in Hitler’s hometown after the Nazi victory. But upon Hitler’s death and Germany’s defeat, the plan was to destroy everything they had stolen. It is up to Clooney and his band of aging, wise-cracking misfits to save the jewels of Western Civilization.
The Monuments Men risked their lives for the art they treasured. Good for them. But I don’t think what they did was nearly as important as the soldiers who actually defeated the Nazis.
Let’s say Clooney’s worst case scenario happened and all of the art in the world was suddenly destroyed. Would that really be so terrible?
An artless world wouldn’t stay artless for long because artists of today would suddenly be very motivated to get to work. With the supply low and the demand high, great starving artists would become well-paid and well-respected.
Anyone with an artistic inkling would be motivated to paint or write or sculpt in their spare time. It would usher in a new world-wide renaissance.
Just to be clear: I don’t dislike “Monuments Men” because I was rooting for the destruction of art. I dislike it because it’s a poorly made movie. Clooney can’t seem to decide whether he’s making an upbeat buddy flick or a maudlin war tragedy. And the plot is unengaging and hard to follow.
Mostly I’m disappointed because George Clooney is usually such an amazing director. All of his previous films are great, especially his last one. 2011’s “The Ides of March” is a four star classic. It’s is the best political drama I’ve ever seen.
If you were thinking of renting “Monuments Men” this weekend, I recommend that you skip it and watch the brilliant “Ides of March” instead. If Nazis burned all the copies of that film, even I would be pretty sad.